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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Why are we so docile to the dictates of fashion?

Sun, 15 Jul 2018 09:44:00 +0000 Published in The Confidential

Fashion is a major custom of a human group for a short period of time. Traditionally it referred almost exclusively to clothing, but over the last two centuries it has spread to many other aspects of social life. Think, for example, of the current fashions for tattoos, piercing and cell phone cases, which are adopted by young and old alike.

In this paper I will abstract from the world of textile fashion, since it is a reality that cannot be homologated with others. I also warn that my objections to the social phenomenon of fashion do not refer to supposed "bad" fashions, but to the imposing and standardizing character of fashion itself.

Sometimes children's fashions come from their parents' example. In a humorous vignette, two ladies are sitting on a park bench talking. One of them is reading a book next to her son, who is reading another. The second woman is using her tablet while her son is talking on his cell phone; surprised, she asks the first woman: "And how do you get yours to read?

  Today, "being fashionable" implies changing one's way of life every few years (ideas, beliefs, values, ideologies, etc.). People tend to believe that this means modernizing and renewing oneself, without taking into account the risk of becoming uniform.

For Gilles Lipovetsky, fashion is currently the empire of the ephemeral. References and values have never been so dependent on the fickle. As a consequence, almost everything is provisional and relative.

Fads should not be confused with trends. A trend is an innovative idea that someone has and that becomes a preference with respect to certain purposes; it is a new and creative way of doing things. A trend, on the other hand, arises when that idea is used on a massive scale; it is not creative, but repetitive. Often, some good trends are devalued when they become fads. For example, the fad of communicating by cell phone can become an addiction.

Despite all these risks and drawbacks of fashions, why are they so popular?

In the first place, because we do not dare to be with the minorities and the "dissidents"; we lack the personality and courage to go against the majorities and to swim against the current. We tend to conformism, to not complicate our lives.

Secondly, because today the whole of society is affected by the dictates of fashion, which is presented to us as a paradigm of the system: "the main fact of our societies is the extraordinary generalization of fashion, the extension of fashion to spheres previously external to its process, the advent of a society restructured in all its aspects by seduction and the ephemeral (...) Fashion has managed to reshape society in its image. We live in societies dominated by frivolity". (G. Lipovetsky: The Empire of the ephemeral).

Many people's life decisions are heavily conditioned by what everyone else is doing. This is a gregarious or creeping behavior that brings a false sense of protection and belonging. "Fashion is a lie that everyone wants to believe in. Although no one forces us, we are all subject to the duty of fashion, even unknowingly and against our will. With the obsession to appear, new symptoms are born and proliferate in our society, and the famous "trends" justify everything." (G. Erner; Victims of fashion).

This gregarious behavior in certain cases becomes degrading. I am referring to the so-called Herd Effect or Bandwagon Effect. Its protagonists are immature and maladjusted young people who need to act in a herd to cover up their shortcomings and satisfy their instincts.

In the face of excessive dependence on fashions, it is essential to foster self-determination in all people, from childhood onwards, so that they acquire the habit of choosing from agreement according to their own tastes and personality. But we must also ask the creators and disseminators of fashion to be more respectful of users: to move from dictatorship to proposal. "If business looks at itself and not at the consumer, it will end up losing sales; it is necessary to know their tastes and their motivations for buying. Products cannot be imposed" (Ramón Alas, director of group GFT).

To those who, with arrogance, impose fashions on us, it would help to reflect on this definition: "fashion is what goes out of style".